Svein, King of Norway

Sveinn Knútsson or Sveinn Alfífuson óforsynjukonungr ("a king not to be born") c. 1016–1035, was the son of Cnut the Great, king of Denmark, Norway, and England, and his first wife Ælfgifu (Old Norse Alfífa), an Anglo-Saxon noblewoman. Svein acted as king of Norway under the guidance of his mother from 1030 until 1035. They imposed new taxes and harsh laws that made them unpopular.


In 1029 Håkon Eiriksson, Cnut's vassal ruler of Norway, was lost at sea and Olaf Haraldsson, who had been deposed as king of Norway by Cnut, tried to recapture the kingdom, but he was defeated and killed at the Battle of Stiklestad. Cnut then sent Svein and Ælfgifu to Norway, with Ælfgifu ruling as regent on behalf of her fourteen year old son. This came as a great disappointment to a number of Norwegians who had wished to take the place of the Earls of Lade (Ladejarls). Nobles like Einar Tambarskjelve and Kalv Arnesson were especially disappointed because they both believed that Cnut had promised they could take power.

The 1030s were difficult years in Europe. Danish policy in Norway changed - there was closer royal involvement and strict regulations in many areas. This created the basis of a popular resistance against the new regime which can be characterised as being of the same ilk as that which Saint Olav had earlier come up against. According to the Sagas, Ælfgifu's and Svein's tax-demands and new laws created resentment.

Snorri writes that "King Svein brought in new laws on many subjects. They were modelled on Danish laws but some were much stricter. No man was allowed to leave the country without the King's permission; if he did so his property would become the King's. A person who committed murder would lose the right to land and property. If an outlaw was due an inheritance, the King would take it. At Christmas every farmer had to give the king a measure (between 15 and 20 litres) of malt from every hearth and the thigh of a three year-old ox, this was called vinjartodde (land tax) in Old Norse, and also a bucket of butter."

According to the Heimskringla, the Battle of Soknasund (Slaget i Soknasund) occurred during 1033 in Ryfylke. Tryggve the Pretender came with an army from England. He said he was the son of Olav Tryggvason and therefore claimed the kingdom as his own. When word reached Sveinn Alfífuson and Aelgifu that Tryggve's invasion was imminent, they summoned the landholders of Halogaland and the Trondheim district to join the royal army in resisting Tryggve. Svein Knutsson and his army, probably including elite Danish troops stood against them. Sveinn and his forces made their way south to Agder, believing that Tryggve would attempt to slip through the Skagerrak and join his supporters in Viken. Tryggve, however, landed instead in Hordaland, then sailed to Rogaland to attack Sveinn's navy. The two fleets met off the island of Bokn. Svein won the Battle of Soknasund and Tryggve Olavsson was killed. An account preserved in Morkinskinna relates that Tryggve was actually killed by a farmer after the battle.

Later that same winter Kalv Arnesson and Einar Tambarskjelve met and decided to travel to Gardarike to fetch Olav Haraldsson's son Magnus. When Magnus came to Norway the people sided with him and against the Danes. Svein had to flee home to Denmark where he died a short time later. Thus the King of Denmark had to give up his claim on Norway, and it was several hundred years before the Danes could once again impose themselves on Norway.

As a character in Shakespeare

Svein is an important back story character in the first act of Macbeth, where Shakespeare calls him Sweno. His army arrived in Fife and began massacring Scots. He beseiged Macbeth in the castle of Bertha. Duncan, the Scottish king, sent food and drink to the Norwegians, but laced it with a potion that caused them to become sleepy. Macbeth then slaughtered Sweno's army, but Sweno himself escaped. Canute and the Danes arrived to avenge this defeat, but they agreed to a truce:

Sweno, the Norway's king, craves composition [treaty].
nor would we deign him burial of his men
till he disbursed at Saint Colme's-inch
ten thousand dollars to our general use.

Family tree

Harald Bluetooth
Ælfgifu of Northampton
Emma of Normandy
Æthelred the Unready
Ælfgifu, 1st wife
Sweyn Knutsson
Harold Harefoot
Gunhilda of Denmark
Alfred Ætheling
Edmund II
Gytha Thorkelsdóttir+
Godwin, Earl of Wessex
William "the Conqueror"
Harold II
Edward the Confessor
Edgar Ætheling
Gyrth, Gunnhilda, Ælfgifu, Leofwine & Wulfnoth
Malcolm III
Other children
Edith of Scotland

+Said to have been a great-granddaughter of Cnut's grandfather Harald Bluetooth, but this was probably a fiction intended to give her a royal bloodline.

Svein, King of Norway
Born: c. 1016 Died: 1035
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Hákon Eiríksson
as Regent of Norway
King of Norway
with Canute the Great
Succeeded by
Magnus the Good

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